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    The Risks of Modern Games Development
    Tuesday, 29 July 2008
    Long gone are the days where any geeky bedroom techy could programme a game within days and ship some tapes to their local store. With budgets exceeding Hollywood and the development phase enduring upwards of two years, publishers need to be certain that they make sufficient profit to keep themselves afloat in the choppy waters of 21st century video game production.

    Take, if you will, Atari. Their recent attempt at reviving the classic-horror Alone in The Dark series did not become the saving grace they had hoped for. In the end, it was a a simple case of quality affecting sales, and now they are the ones who have paid the price of misjudging the sway of the consumers. We're at a stage now where some companies have no choice but to throw all their resources at a game to try and keep the hype train chugging along while they desperately get it translated for that last Eastern European country. But even if you know you're game is good or bad, you have to take risks.

    This may seem like a radical digress, but bare with me and take a different example: Factor 5. These guys jumped on board with Sony when they realised they'd be joining the team in the lead in the hardware arms race. Here we had a developer that could make a truly great game with sheer power alone. The Rogue Squadron games remain both fan favourites and also the best looking games of last gen. Simply by adding so much atmosphere into the action, Factor 5 could make a masterpiece by fully utilizing the best hardware that was available. The plan was to do the same with Lair.

    Upon it's announcement, people could see that Factor 5 were in their zone with PS3. They had the best hardware up their sleeves, and looked set to imitate their Rogue Squadron glory. Upon release, Lair failed miserable, both commercially and critically. Why? Because they let people play it.

    For some cases, this sounds harsh, but for others, it's a case that seems too good to be true for the gamer, but the initial critical reaction of your game is pivotal to the long-term outcome. Factor 5 misjudged that state of the industry. They couldn't foresee the phenomenon that was the Wii Remote. They didn't expect the glut of near-photo realistic games to appear on Xbox 360. They thought the road would be easy; that they could get away with ragged edges due to the prettiness of the game. When journos first got their hands on it, they needed to be impressed. At the time, some of them had just got back from being blown away by Gears of War, others had been wowed by Wii Sports. Would Lair give the PS3 a similar killer app?

    It wasn't to be. Bluntly, the consoles of the last gen were arguably clones: you could get away with more because people couldn't imagine things being much different. Factor 5 couldn't imagine anything being able to hold a candle to Lair, but with hindsight, they'd be lucky if the flame was still warm.

    To reflect their mistakes, CEO Julian Eggebrecht was forced to admit that the reason they signed on for Lair was that the company needed money, and Sony seemed to be the one to provide. They were obviously wrong, and are now putting a new Wii game into production because frankly: that's where the money lies. Many forsee the long-rumoured Kid Icarus revival to come from the company. Others suggest a return for Thornado - the spiritual continuation of fan-favourite Turrican. Whatever it will be though, you can gurantee it will take full advantage of the console's hardware, because while they may have lost some face with Lair, they certainly haven't lost their passion.

    Alas, if you have the God-given power to predict the industry (which all these analysts DON'T), then it can become a harmonious loop, but if you continue to misjudge the flow of the fickle consumer, then it can be the most vicious of circles, and eventually ending up like the the house of Nolan Bushnell.

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    posted by D_prOdigy @ 15:52  
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